Peter Geary lived two doors away from me in Mason St. Reading. Berkshire. U.K., about 38 miles west of London. Peter and I were friends and he was an extremely good mate to have. Although he was very quiet and shy, his spirit of adventure and determination made him one of the best lads that I've ever gone up into the hills with. He was kind and thoughtful, a special friend indeed and we had some good adventures together until he finally emigrated to Sydney, in Australia, and we lost touch. This is the story of one of those adventures.
If my memory serves me right it was early September 1965. Pete and I decided to slip up to North Wales for a weekend of climbing and walking in the hills of Snowdonia. Due to the fact that my wife and I were expecting our first child at the end of October and this would be my last trip for a while, we had planned to make the most of it.
As we made our preparations through the preceding week, three other lads asked if they could join us. Although we had wanted to 'do something good', Pete and I didn't mind giving beginners a fair go and we agreed to take the lads along. With permission to stay in the Scouting cottage at Llanberis (and taking a large old army tent with us, just in case the cottage was crowded or noisy), we set off from Reading in great spirits on the Friday evening.
After a 250 mile drive, we reached the cottage in the early hours of Saturday morning and snatched a couple of hours sleep until 4.30 a.m. when it was time to start the day.
But those three lads didn't want to get up. In fact, they had decided not to come with us, even when we offered to leave later in the morning. Pete and I could see that it was no use trying to talk them into it so we set off together and left the lads to sleep on.
To suit the three lads, Peter and I had planned to take them walking around the ridge of the 'Snowdon Horseshoe' that day. The Snowdon Horseshoe is an arc of peaks, with a rocky ridge strung out between each peak. The route is about 7 map miles long and involves about 3100 feet of actual upward walking (the starting point is about 1170 feet above sea level), but, the day's trip would enable us to finish up back at the car. Even though we could now please ourselves, we decided to still walk the Horseshoe and do a climb on the way.
With this climb in mind, we had hastily stowed the climbing gear into our two rucksacks along with the first aid tin, food, water, spare clothing, etc. In those days, I only had a hemp rope and slings, my karabiners (snaplinks for joining ropes) were all made of steel, I had a few assorted pitons (steel pegs that can be hammered into cracks and used as protection against long falls) and each of us carried a peg hammer. All this gear was very heavy and our frameless rucksacks seemed to weigh a ton as we threw them into the back of Pete's car, but both of us were young and thought that we were fit. Pete drove us up to the top of the Pen-y-pass and parked the car in the car park opposite the Gorphwysfa (rest and be thankful) Hotel (Pete was a learner driver at the time and I was quite happy to sit beside him, as his 'qualified instructor', while he gained some experience). Leaving a note on top of the car's dashboard, informing of our intentions for the day, we set off in the cool mountain air.
After slogging slowly up the Pyg (Welsh for Pig) Track for about a mile, we reached Bwlch-y-Moch (Pig Pass) where we turned right and climbed steeply up to the summit of Crib Goch (Red Ridge). Crib Goch, at a height of 3023 feet, was the first peak I had climbed, over two years previously. Beyond this peak was the famous Crib Goch 'Knife Edge' arete, a 400 yard long sharp ridge with steep drops on either side. At the far end of this arete were the Crazy Pinnacles, a jumble of rocks, where Pete and I had decided to do our climb.
After a brief rest on the summit of Crib Goch, we walked along the top of that airy ridge and reached the Crazy Pinnacles. It didn't take long to sort out our climbing gear, scramble down to the foot of the crag, choose a nice juicy route to climb and launch ourselves up the rockface. It was a beautiful day, the sky was clear and already the sun was shining warmly up on the ridge. But it was quite cool in the shade of that ridge as we slowly crept up the face with Cwm Glas (Blue/Green Hollow) and the Llanberis Pass way below our feet. The route that we had chosen was fairly easy and we enjoyed it to the full. All too soon we were both back upon the ridge.
With our climbing gear packed into the rucksacks again, we set off to continue our walk. I was never keen on the next stage of the ridge, which dropped down to Bwlch Goch (Red Pass) then dragged up to the summit of Crib-y-Ddysgl (or Carnedd Ugain - Hill of the Twenty), to me it was a boring slog. Nevertheless, even the boring stages have to end sometime and it wasn't long before we'd gone over Crib-y-Ddysgl at a height of 3493 feet, wandered down to a railway track, and followed that track up to finally reach the summit of Yr Wyddfa (the great mound or tomb, Rhita Gawr is said to have been buried at that spot).
Yr Wyddfa (as I prefer to call this summit), at a height of 3560 feet, is the highest point in both England and Wales (Scafell Pike, 3210 feet, is England's highest peak). Sadly, in my mind, the Welsh name of 'Yr Wyddfa' has been replaced by 'Snowdon', the English title given to this mountain. But, to me, it will always be Yr Wyddfa.
I think that it's safe to say that Yr Wyddfa is the most popular peak in the whole of the British Isles. Probably every mountaineer in the U.K. has added this summit to his or her list of 'conquests', and thousands of overseas mountaineers will have done the same. I have lost count of the number of trips that I've done up to this spot during my mountaineering years of pleasure and instructing. There is an hotel just below the summit and a Swiss-designed mountain rack-railway has been built between this hotel and Llanberis, five miles away down at the bottom of the Llanberis pass, so this peak is also accessible to thousands of tourists each year as well. It was up the last few hundred yards of the railway line that Pete and I slogged to reach the lofty peak of Yr Wyddfa that day.
After eating lunch and having a good rest while I chatted to a mountaineering friend, who worked in the hotel, it was time to get moving once more. As Pete and I slung those heavy rucksacks onto our backs again, we were thankful that most of the hard work was done. Although we'd only completed 3 miles of our walk and still had 4 miles to go, the continuation of our trip was mainly down from then on, except for one last upward struggle to the top of Lliwedd a bit later.
From the summit of Yr Wyddfa, we scrambled down the steep Watkin Path, losing 850 feet of height, crossed over the crest of Bwlch-y-Saethau (Pass of Arrows) then climbed the 250 feet up to Lliwedd's twin summits. It was nearly all downhill from that point. Tired but happy, we plodded the long path down off of Lliwedd, reached the old Miners Track and, after little more than a mile of easy walking we arrived back at the car.
In mountaineering terms, this day's walk isn't particularly hard and it can easily be accomplished by the average person who has prepared for such a venture. Pete and I had prepared ourselves well, in fact, we'd probably prepared ourselves too well. Those rucksacks had been agony on our backs, we had sore shoulders caused by the straps and our legs had buckled more than once under the weight of the gear stowed inside them. But, being keen climbers, we didn't leave anything to chance, stowing many extras for use in the event of an emergency. To be properly prepared, we had to accept the extra weight.
This description of our preparations and the events leading up to that point in time, will give the reader some idea of how Pete and I were feeling as we threw those heavy rucksacks into the car and set off back down to the cottage at Llanberis. We were fairly tired and had a few aches and pains but, it had been worth the effort to have another great day of memories under our belts. Now we were unwinding and looking forward to a pleasant evening of relaxation. We felt that we'd earned it.
But, those three lads hadn't wasted their day while Pete and I had been up in the hills. From somewhere (and I am still amazed at the feat) they had managed to entice five young ladies into the cottage. There were already couples up on the bunks and Pete and I had been 'given' a young lady each. The two girls had waited patiently all the afternoon for our return. What had been planned for the night will be left to the reader's imagination but the five young ladies were very willing to join in the fun and I was more than a little shocked. Those young misguided ladies had obviously thought that we were all mountaineering heroes!
Now, Pete had led a fairly sheltered life and he was extremely shy. I could see that the brazen attitude of the lads and those girls had shaken him well and truly. I was happily married and wasn't going to waste the rest of our weekend in such a way. With no more ado, I suggested to Pete that we could camp out for the night. We needed the rest so that we'd have plenty of energy for the next morning. Pete was happy to go along with my suggestion.
If we'd thought that those rucksacks had been heavy during the trip around the Snowdon Horseshoe, it was nothing compared to the weight of them as we prepared to camp out that night. Each of us packed army blankets (we couldn't afford sleeping bags in those days), tinned and packaged food, milk, water, enamel mug and dish, eating utensils, our own first-aid kit, torch, and spare clothes. On top of this, Pete carried the Primus stove, fuel, and tent, while I carried the iron cooking pots, and climbing gear. To the sound of the jeers from those boys and girls that we were leaving in the lurch, Pete and I staggered out of the door, threw the rucksacks into the car and drove off.
We didn't go far in the car. Pete stopped just down the road and asked me if I'd be willing to explore some old tin mines the next morning. Apparently, he'd heard about these old mines from a friend and had been waiting for an opportunity to have a look around them.
The mines were over in the Cwellyn Valley and, according to Pete's friend, had been worked by German prisoners-of-war during the first World War. I don't know if that statement is true or not, but the mines were long abandoned when Pete heard about them.
I got my map out to find their exact location. Upon finding the spot on the map, we realised that the mines were on the other side of Moel Eilio, a peak situated behind Llanberis and on whose lower slopes we were then parked. The map showed a ridge rising from those lower slopes and leading straight up to the top of Moel Eilio.
At a height of 2382 feet, Moel Eilio is easily dismissed as no more than a large hill. The outskirts of Llanberis, on its lower slopes, were already 1000 feet above sea level. To climb the remaining 1400 feet up to the summit would only involve about one and a quarter miles of upward walking at a rough angle of 25 degrees.
As Pete and I studied the map, we gradually decided to walk up over the summit, camp beside the mines for the night, then, after exploring the mines in the morning, we'd return to the car by the same route. With no thought to our tired bodies, we drove to the start of the ridge, left a note on the dashboard, slung those heavy `sacks onto our backs and staggered off up the slope.
Little knowing that our decision would cause me to experience something wonderful to remember all through my remaining life, I tried to forget the painful legs and shoulders, and the crushing weight of my rucksack, concentrating my whole mind on forcing those legs and shoulders to do their work. Now and again I glanced up towards the, by then, cloud-covered summit and groaned to myself when it seemed that we'd hardly made any progress since the last time I'd looked.
To my way of thinking, the struggle up that bare, featureless hillside was another one of those boring drags. I'd climbed most of the high peaks around Britain by that time and I wasn't really interested in adding this one to my list. It was only the thought of exploring those mines, and doing something for Pete, that kept me moving upwards.
More and more our legs and shoulders screamed out for a rest. It was the rucksacks, sagging heavily down on our backs, that had caused our problems. But, if we wanted to do as we'd planned, and do it safely, then we had to carry that gear with us. We had set our safety standards a long time before and had already seen a few examples of what can happen when people go up in the hills unprepared. We struggled on at a snail's pace.
Finally, we reached the cloud level and had a brief rest while I fished out my compass and map. I took some bearings of features that we could see back down below, so that we could work out our position and set an accurate course for the summit. Those cross-bearings had indicated that we only had about a quarter of a mile to go before reaching that summit. But an accurate course was essential if we were to find it safely. The sun was low in the sky, the wind was roaring across the hillside, and what we could see of our way ahead looked very gloomy in the thick mist that swirled by just above us. The map showed that there were some steep crags just to the left of the summit, we didn't want to lose our way in the mist and chance falling over them.
The compass became our most important item of gear as we moved on up into the cloud. Even the job of keeping accurately on course didn't enable me to forget the tiredness in my body and, although I'm blessed with such a wonderful memory, I can't recall much of the ascent that we did in the cloud. I was efficiently alert enough to keep that course but, we couldn't see very far ahead due to the thick mist. The aiming points for my compass needle were many and I knew that this could cause less accuracy in keeping to the chosen bearing. That featureless hillside didn't help much either. There was hardly anything to aim the compass needle at except for taller tufts of grass and an occasional rock. Most of the time I struggled up with eyes riveted to a chosen tuft, just in case I went to the wrong one and started to go off course. I hadn't forgotten the crags, somewhere in the mist on our left.
There was also a song on my mind as we forced our way up that gloomy hill. That song was 'Seven Golden Daffodils', recorded and released the previous year by The Mojos, and It had been going around and around inside my head for most of that gruelling slog. But, as we crept ever upwards through the mist, I became aware that, occasionally, the sound of the song would cease for a while and I could hear a man's voice talking. Although I can't recall what the voice was saying, I remember that it was quiet but informative. It sounded similar to a man telling the news (as on the radio during the 1940s), but that voice seemed to come from the very centre of my very brain. As I was busy trying to keep my body moving and stay on course, I didn't take much notice of the voice, other than to record (in my memory) the fact that I had heard a voice, and what it sounded like.
Then I was on my knees and Pete was helping me up. A few steps later Pete collapsed to his knees and I pulled feebly at his rucksack to help him get up again. After another few steps (it seemed) I went down flat, and the weight of my rucksack just seemed to pin my body to the ground. Pete tried to help me up again, but his energy was spent as well. As he reached down to tug at my rucksack, the weight of his own rucksack caused him to drop down beside me. We both desperately needed a rest and we both knew it. We were exhausted beyond measure.
Having now set the scene, it was at this point in time that the real reason for this narrative happened.
Without any warning or thought, I was looking down on this scene. It was just as if my eyes had left my body and risen up about 25 feet into the air above. I could clearly see us both as we lay on the hillside, and I can recall it all so vividly.
Neither of us were moving or trying to get up from the ground. Pete was slightly above me with his right arm across my rucksack. My left hand was on the back upper part of Pete's right leg. The roar of the wind had gone and I felt very calm and relaxed. I can't recall being surprised by this event, it all just seemed natural at the time. As I looked about our two forms, I could see the dull, mottled greens, browns, and greys of the hillside gradually vanishing into the mist all around. I also recall that, although we couldn't see it from ground level, I could see the slight, darker line of a path passing up the slope about 1 yard to our left. Even that discovery didn't surprise me.
Suddenly, something in the mist ahead caught my eye. I looked up and there, right in front of me and as clear as can be, was a beautiful golden road winding up into the greyness of the thick cloud.
I saw up on Moel
Eilio that evening.
I glanced down at our two forms below. We looked very alone and forlorn on that bare hillside, surrounded by the thick mist and us both seemingly cut off from this very world. Although I had the strong urge to go up the road, I suddenly thought to myself that I couldn't just walk away and leave Pete down there on his own. I don't recall not expecting my body to join me so that I'd walk up the road as a normal bodily person, I just felt that Pete would be left on his own and I didn't want to leave him there.
As that thought came into my mind, the peaceful calm was suddenly shattered by the sound of the wind again and I found myself back down beside Pete once more. It was at this point that I began, for the first time, to try to comprehend what was going on.
I looked up, fully expecting the road to be gone, but it was still there. I asked Pete if he could see it. He didn't seem to hear me so, I shook his shoulder and asked him to look up into the mist ahead. He moved and I heard him gasp as if surprised (now I'm wondering if it might not have been a gasp of pain from himself laying on a sharp rock or something!).
We lay there for a few moments, looking up into the mist together. I recall that I wasn't alarmed, I just felt strangely excited, wondering how that road could be up in the mist and trying to comprehend what was going on and what it all meant.
Then I remembered the camera in my rucksack and asked Pete to get it out if he could. Pete threw his own rucksack off and began to undo the straps of mine, which was still on my back. I kept my eye on the road, willing it to stay there long enough for us to get a photograph. But, even as Pete fumbled amongst the gear in my rucksack, the scene up in the mist began to change.
I suddenly noticed that the trees had gone first. A short while later, the golden colour of the road faded to a silvery white. Pete couldn't find the camera so, still watching the road, I stood up and took my rucksack off. Finally Pete located the camera but, even before he'd had a chance to hand it to me, things began to happen fast and we could only watch in awe.
The road suddenly seemed to move down and to the left a bit. Dark smudges started to race across it and the colour fluctuated between silver and white. The wind was roaring, seeming to add to the dramatic events, like an orchestra building up for a finale. The mist around the 'road' began to take on a pink hue which gradually turned towards red. Then the road started to shrink and fade. Small dark blotches appeared and disappeared in the red mist around its fading form. It was at this point that I suddenly realised what was happening.
We had actually reached the rounded summit of Moel Eilio. The cloud was thinning out into long, wind-blown fingers which raced across our view of the Cwellyn valley below. The red hue of the mist was caused by a deep red sunset, and the dark blotches were features down in the valley, that appeared and disappeared as the wind-blown fingers of cloud thickened and thinned before us.
All at once, as if someone had opened a great curtain, the clouds suddenly cleared and the Cwellyn Valley lay below us, bathed in redness caused by the setting sun.
I still have that photograph in my collection, although it's a black and white print and doesn't show the true colours of that scene. My face shows of the ordeal we had been through and certainly helps to serve as a reminder of that day.
Meanwhile, the mines were well over to our right on the slopes below and we had to get our tired bodies moving. Even though we had torches, we thought that it would be chancing our luck to wander near those shafts in the dark. With no more ado, we began the descent, fully expecting to stagger slowly across the slopes under the weight of our rucksacks.
But, something had happened to us up there. We suddenly had new energy, and the tiredness, aches, and pains were gone. It was just as if we'd camped up on that summit for a few days to recuperate. The weight of those rucksacks seemed nothing compared to earlier on, our legs were springy and strong again and we felt so happy and alive. The change in us was truly amazing. Soon we were running down the slopes, jumping from tussock to tussock, rock to rock, laughing and giving an occasional yodel as we expressed our acute feeling of happiness.
We didn't camp beside the mines that night. For some reason we ran on down the hillside, mines forgotten, until we finally reached the tiny village of Betws Garmon on the valley floor. We had been so exhilarated by our new-found energy and the downward race. Even before it was dark, we had been given permission to camp in a meadow, beside the river that flows through the valley, and the tent was erected. In the light from our torches, we got the 'Primus' going, cooked and ate a solid meal, then settled down in our old tent for the night. As we lay there, snug and warm in our army blankets, we began to seriously discuss the events that had occurred up on Moel Eilio.
Pete hadn't been aware that I had looked down at us from above. It was baffling but he believed me. In these enlightened years of the nineties, I now know of the phenomenon called 'Astral Travel' and feel that I may have experienced this phenomenon. But the 'road', to my mind anyway, hasn't been so easy to explain.
The road appeared then faded exactly as described above. The only explanation that we could come up with was that a section of the river (that we could see from the summit after the cloud had cleared, way down the valley past Waunfawr and shining like a silver thread in the distance), had reflected into the thinning mist and been magnified greatly by the water droplets suspended in the cloud.
Those cypress trees and their shadows still remain a mystery though. There were no trees along the river bank in that section, and anyway, the shadows that I saw were going towards the (at the time, hidden) setting sun, not away from it. I'm not sure whether Pete saw the trees as well, for I distinctly recall asking him if he could see the road up in the mist. After that, we always referred to it as 'the road'. In fact, as I've pondered over the whole event, I can't really recall whether he had ever said he'd actually seen the 'road' - or whether I'd just told him about what I'd seen and he'd believed me! By the time that I wanted to know what he actually saw himself, Pete had moved abroad.
The sudden regaining of our energy and painless strength was another mystery to us at the time. The whole incident, from when I collapsed to the ground, until we were ready to descend, couldn't have taken more than ten minutes. We had wondered how we could have felt so fresh and fit after only such a short rest.
It was certainly all very puzzling to us but, as I began to finally drift off to sleep, with the sound of the river splashing over a few rocks nearby and the occasional flap of the tent canvass in the soft breeze, I was very glad that our day had ended so safely. I knew that we had gone beyond our limits, and I also knew that we had been lucky to get away without an accident or worse. That incident made me look at myself a lot closer and recognise those limits.
a chance to explore them properly with another group of people - Sadly, without Pete!
We awoke the next morning to a beautiful day and, as we packed all our gear back into those rucksacks, my eyes kept glancing up towards the summit of Moel Eilio. Already the events of the previous night seemed as if they had been but a dream. The mountain looked quiet and peaceful with no hint of roaring winds, thick grey clouds, or strange sightings. We could see a line of large holes going over the left lower flanks of the mountain. These holes were the mines that we had planned to explore and I finally turned my attention away from Moel Eilio for a while so that we could get on with those plans.
The old mines were very interesting. We poked about in some of the lower passages and shafts and marvelled at the way the roofs were held up by pillars of rock. These pillars had obviously been left in place as the miners removed the ore-bearing rock around them. It was easy to imagine the hardships those miners must have endured as they dug into the mountain, probably with only picks and shovels for tools. Some of the passages were no more than 'inclined fissures' and we had wondered how a miner could have even stood in those fissures, let alone use a pick or shovel. It made my work as a lorry driver seem very soft and safe. We both shuddered at the thought of working in such a place ourselves. Our morning of exploration flew by and, all too soon, it was time to get moving. But first, we had to get back to the car.
We had seen, from my map, that there was a track going on from the higher mines, around the lower slopes of Moel Eilio, over Bwlch-y-Groes, and on into Llanberis. Although we had originally planned to walk back over Moel Eilio to the car, we did discuss the possibility of walking on along that track to Llanberis instead. But, in the end, as we were still down in the lower mines and both routes would involve quite a bit of upward climbing (and also to be on the safe side), we decided to try and hitch-hike back around to Llanberis. Promising ourselves that we would return for a look at the higher mines, we made our way down to the valley. In those days, compared with the present, climbers and walkers were still few and far between and drivers, especially the locals, were very helpful to hitch-hikers in that area.
Our luck held out and, within a few minutes of standing beside the road, we were given a lift. I recall that the driver that time wasn't a local (although I had been helped out by locals on a number of occasions). He was a Spanish tourist who was taking a drive around the Snowdon massif. Pete and I had a great time pointing out the sights as that chap drove us past Llyn Cwellyn and Beddgelert, on up through the Vale of Nantgwynant, then down the Llanberis Pass to Llanberis itself. After thanking the driver for the lift (and being thanked for our 'tourist's information'), we walked the short distance up to the car.
Neither of us had expected to get back to the car so easily and we had laughed at the thought that, if we hadn't decided to hitch-hike back around to Llanberis, we would have still been plodding over the lower slopes of Moel Eilio. We were very grateful to that Spanish chap. Finally, we arrived back at the cottage and the three lads.
Those three lads were not very happy with us at all because we had spoilt their night of fun. Apparently, after Pete and I had left the cottage, 'our' two girls had wanted to go. They had complained to the other three girls until all five girls went their way, leaving the three lads on their own. But, Pete and I didn't have time to worry about their problem. Within a short time, all the gear had been sorted and packed into the car, the cottage was tidied up, and we set off towards home.
By the time we'd reached Shrewsbury, the lads had thawed out a bit and I told them about the mysterious happenings up on Moel Eilio. Those three lads collapsed in helpless laughter and I was glad that I hadn't mentioned to them how I'd looked down on the scene from above. They never came with us again!
But, Pete and I were extremely happy with our great weekend, although, apart from our immediate families, we didn't talk too much about the finer details to anyone. Our sudden energy as we ran down off the summit is easily explained. Many times over the years since, I would experience the phenomenon of the body and mind being revitalised when the way ahead becomes brighter after a bad spell.
But I still wonder about the other incidents.
While doing a bit of research for this article, I discovered that the cypress tree (Cupressus sempervirens) was formerly used for coffins and hence symbolic of death and mourning.
In 1990 I bought a book on the subject of aircraft crash sites in the Snowdonia National Park area of North Wales. From that book I discovered that an aircraft had crashed, after the pilot became lost in the thick mist, into the crags just below the summit of Moel Eilio, the very crags that, in the thick mist, had caused me concern as Pete and I had struggled up the slope all those years ago. The accident had occurred at 12 noon on the 20th November 1942 - three hours after I was born.
With more evidence coming to light of people being regressed to former lives, the teachings of some religions and individuals that each spirit lives many lives, leaving an 'old (dead) body' and entering a 'new' body (at - or near - childbirth), and the 'fear of flying' phobia that I have endured all my life even though I am so fascinated by flying and aircraft, coupled with my love for the mountains, I have to ask myself the following questions.
Could my spirit have been transferred from one of those unfortunate airmen that were killed on Moel Eilio that day?
Those men were flyers, could one of them have been as fascinated with flying such as I am, only to realise at the last moment that flying would take his life? And have I inherited my phobia from that last realisation?
What really happened to me up on the misty summit of Moel Eilio that evening?
Was what I saw real?
Did Peter really see the same?
Was I just hallucinating through being so tired and spent?
Did I really only see the silver of the river through the mist and imagine the trees?
Had I also imagined that I was floating above the scene?
Or had I somehow stumbled on the death site of my previous body and fleetingly experienced what my spirit had gone through in those dying moments (a golden road up to 'something wonderful' beyond the mist) through some kind of regression?
I have no answers but I have found it all very intriguing.
PS. Read my story Flights of Fear? - Or Flights of Fancy? And my poem The Flying Flop for more on this subject. Or...
Next story - Confessions of the Dead.
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